DeKalb school board tries to hang on to jobs

In unprecedented turn of events, members make pitch to state today

Members of the DeKalb County school board will ask the state school board Thursday to let them keep their jobs.

If they are unconvincing, Gov. Nathan Deal will get the authority to remove them from office.

The unprecedented turn of events for a Georgia district of this size and importance — with nearly 100,000 students, DeKalb is the third largest school system in the state — is the result of findings by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools last month.

The non-governmental agency placed DeKalb’s accreditation on probation after uncovering a host of rule violations, from school board meddling in hiring decisions to mismanagement of taxpayer dollars. A new state law allows the governor to remove school boards in district’s on probation if the state school board recommends it.

DeKalb board members have been wary of criticizing SACS, yet some have chaffed at a fundamental charge: that board members represent the interests of their districts at the expense of the rest of the students. The investigative report said board members were quarreling with each other in part because they were too concerned with their own turf and getting re-elected.

“Until such time as the board members begin to place the educational needs of all students in DeKalb County Schools before those of individual students, constituents and other stakeholders in ‘their’ election districts,” SACS concluded, “the system will continue to fail to meet its mission and vision to provide a quality education for all students.”

Some current and former board members say that sounds nice but is unrealistic.

“How can you expect a school board member from the southern part of the county not to represent the interests of the South, and vice versa,” said Eugene Walker, a school board member from South DeKalb.

State Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, chairs the DeKalb Senate delegation and held a hearing on the SACS matter last week. He said school board members must behave differently from other elected officials because the welfare of children is at stake. The law, he said, “places a higher burden on school boards than on city councils or county commissions.”

Some wonder whether removing these board members would make any long term difference.

“If the governor removes this board, who do you think is going to get re-elected? … People who represent the same thought processes,” said Don McChesney, a former North DeKalb school board member who was defeated for re-election last year.

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